My Son – A Graduate. Time Flies…

imageThis past weekend my son received his high school diploma.  13 years of school have come to a close, and we could not be more proud of his efforts.  Over the past 13 years, we have exposed him to three different education models, and he excelled in all of them.  The last two years he has been dual-enrolled in college at Cedarville University via on-line courses, and has done an amazing job there as well.  He will walk on campus as a sophomore this fall.

There are so many events in our lives that we want to remember.  Milestones exist so we can look back and see where we have been and how far we have come, and I have learned that those moments need to be recognized.  We need them as confirmation in our lives that we are moving forward – achieving goals.

I have been blessed to be in a small men’s group where I learned the importance of taking the time to recognize these moments and commemorate them with a tribute.  When we take the time to write something down from our hearts and give it to someone, it creates a lasting impression.  Those encouraging words will endure long past the moment and will be a touchpoint we can go back to when we are feeling the weight of the world.

Sitting on my desk is a framed copy of a letter I received from my mentor for my 40th birthday.  Aside from the words of encouragement I have receive from my Dad, it is probably the most prized collection of words I have received from any man on earth.  It has made an impression on my life because of the relationship that we have.  Men need to hear words like that and be reminded that they are doing good things – the right things.

So, it is with example from Lou that I put together this letter to my son on his graduation day.  I read it to him at the graduation ceremony, and there will be a framed copy of it for him to take to college this fall so he will be able to see that his Dad believes in him, is proud of him, and prays for him.

I hope that reading this will give you an encouragement to recognize those milestones with your family and close friends.  It may seem like it is only a letter as you write it, but I can tell you that when the relationship is there, the impact of a letter like this will last for years.  Take the time to do it.  It’s worth the effort.

Zachary,

I’ve wanted a son as long as I can remember, and I wanted that son to be just like me.  When you came into my life, I thought I was getting that gift, but your Mom and I got more than that.  We received a son that was a unique blend of the two of us.  Your physical and personality traits seem to morph and shift back and forth so often, but there is no doubt that you are ours.

One of the things I have learned as your Dad is that as much as I wanted a son to be like me, I am thankful that you are an individual, and I have been learning, albeit sometimes slower than either of us would like, to appreciate you as that individual.  You often hear that you are “just like your Dad”, but you and I know that there are a number of differences that make you an “individual”.

Your Mom and I are so proud of the young man you have become.  Our goal as parents has been to equip you to take on the trials of adulthood, to stand as a man of God in a world that needs men who know how to stand.  You have had opportunities to learn and grow in your faith, and have had to learn to lean on God during those times, and I am happy to see how you have developed.

You have made us very proud in your dedication to your studies, your love and devotion to your family and friends, and your desire to squeeze the fun out of life.  You are a thinker, a processor and yet still manage to be spontaneous.  A nice blend that has kept us on our toes.

Our dream is that you will be that man mentioned in Micah.  We have seen the beginnings of that man as you seek to do what is right, show God’s mercy and grace to those you relate with, and maintain a humility in your relationship with God.  We pray for those attributes to continue to grow as you enter the college campus this fall and begin the next steps toward what God will have you to do.

We have offered many prayers for you over the years, and today I want to offer this one more written by General Douglas MacArthur.  It is titled “A Father’s Prayer”, and I cannot think of words that would make it any more my prayer for you as your Dad.  Your Mom and I love you very much and will always be here for you when you need us.

“Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.

Build me a son whose wishbone will not be where his backbone should be; a son who will know Thee—and that to know himself is the foundation stone of knowledge. Lead him I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here let him learn to stand up in the storm; here let him learn compassion for those who fail.

Build me a son whose heart will be clear, whose goal will be high; a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men; one who will learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.

And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor, so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously. Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength.

Then, I, his father, will dare to whisper, ‘I have not lived in vain.’”

—GENERAL DOUGLAS MACARTHUR, “A FATHER’S PRAYER”

Be Relentless in your parenting. Build into the hearts of your kids and share with them how you feel about them.  They need it, and coincidentally, so do you!

Halfway to 88? Happy B-Day to Me!

Wow.  I am 44 today.  Think back to when you were a teenager.  What is that “oldest age” you ever really pictured yourself as?  Do you remember?  It seems like I do, and it was right about here.  44 years old… (I don’t see that as any type of foreshadowing about what this next year holds, just kind of funny that it popped into my head this morning.)

This last year has been a crazy one, and it looks like I am poised to do it all over again.  Time to give a quick little breakdown about what has happened, what is happening, and how I hope I Relentlessly respond to it.  I like to share since I tend to stay more accountable to some of this stuff when people know about it.

Health – Well, as far as the diabetes goes, I am doing better than great.  My doctor actually stopped me in the hall the other day after my bloodwork hit his desk and gave me a hug.  If you knew my doctor, you would be amazed!   I have kept a normal blood sugar since my diagnosis, have stepped my meds down, and kept my weight down.  I also am showing great numbers in the cholesterol and triglycerides.  Probably the healthiest I have been in 20 years in that regard.

New challenge.  Just found out I have two herniated cervical discs.  Not sure what the treatment will be yet as I am waiting to get in to see the specialist.  Pain is terrible, and I feel basically useless.  Hard to enjoy the above success when I feel this way, but I am pressing on.  My son asked me the other day what the lesson God has for me in this, and I have been thinking about that a lot since He asked.  I still don’t have a solid answer, but I am wondering about something.

I have often wondered if I am modeling a life of dependency on God for my family and friends to see.  I have other friends who I look to and think that they are so dependent on God, and I wish I could be that way too.  Maybe I am starting to model it because my son is asking me what I learn from the trials I face.  He has heard me talk about how God used diabetes to remove food from the throne of my heart.  He has heard that I don’t always need to know why, but I need to trust that God will show what I need to see when I need to see it.

So, Zach, maybe the lesson in this is that God is telling me that while I have not arrived, I am definitely in the process of Relentless Growth in this.  He chose to give me a blessing in the knowledge that you are seeing me try to live a life of dependence.  There may be more to come, but I will take this in humble praise to Him for the moment.

Fatherhood – I am finishing up my last year of what I term as “active parenting”. My role as protector and guide is shifting into advisor and counselor/consultant as Zach will join Jessica at college this fall.  I am so proud of my kids and I know God is going to do great things in their lives.  It is definitely a bittersweet feeling to watch them at this stage and know just how much different things will be at Tanner Manor this fall.

My challenge is to be present, but not controlling.  Available, but not underfoot.  I have often found this balance difficult and tend to pull back rather than be a hassle to the kids (unless I feel they need a good hassling!).  Praying that God gives me the wisdom and insight to be there for them while they are at school.

Husbandhood – Tammi and I have had some amazing discussions this past year, and I hope she agrees that we have grown much closer as a result of them.  Seeing Jessica go to school last year and experiencing that change in our family dynamic has definitely turned me more toward watching Tammi. I see how I have taken advantage of her sometimes in how she always handles things for our family.  I need to be more present for her, attentive to her needs.  Actually think about what could be wrong and what I can do about it rather than just ask her all the time. (She will like that one!)

We are soon going to be just the two of us again, and that is going to mean a little more freedom, but also a little more responsibility.  She will still need to talk about her feelings, thoughts, and dreams, and I will be the only one there.  I will need to shift some of how I tend to love my wife in order to meet that need.  We have talked about it some, and we know we have always done these new things together.  We have been parenting actively for the last two decades, but we only had a little over two years before that as a couple, so this is still a somewhat unexplored realm for us.  It is kind of exciting to think I will be able to have her to myself again though! (Sorry kids, Mom was here first!)

Friendships – It has been a strange year in this regard.  The extensive change that has taken place has pulled us from being as close to some as we once were, but has brought us into new friendships with others.  I think I had set some unrealistic goals in trying to “fast track” some things that needed more time, and that left me feeling discouraged a few times.  This year I want to just be more present in those moments that come before me.  Take the time to identify what God might want me to be in that moment rather than just looking at how I want things to be or what I can get out of it.

My Walk – I started something new a little before my birthday last year.  Every day I post a verse of the day with an image and my thought for personal application.  It has helped me keep the thought alive in my mind every day since I do it before my feet hit the floor.  Over the last year I have gone through Proverbs a couple times, the book of Psalms, and am now going through James.  You can follow those by “Liking” my Relentless Growth Facebook Page.

This next year I would like to find time to expand my time of study and start spending more time in areas that I really need to grow.  I want to be realistic in that though.  For now, maybe the verse a day and writing here a little more often might be the best thing.  Something to pray about for sure.

Priorities – It has been a year of shifting and reassessing for us in many aspects.  Work, family, church, friends, service, and the list goes on.  So many things have shifted and will continue to shift as we enter another year of major change as “empty nesters”.  Praying that God will give me wisdom, grace and insight necessary to lead my wife well with a servant leadership that build into her as we face the challenges together.

I hope I don’t bore you with a long post like this that is basically about me.  I’ll admit that the biggest reason for this post is to take a minute to actually write down and think about what has happened and how I am going to respond to it over the next year.  I need that for me because it helps “reset” the panel.  I can look at everything that has happened. See a little bit better in hindsight and hopefully that gives me insight and if things REALLY work out some foresight!

Let’s face it. Life is Relentless.  It will never stop coming at us.  If we want to get anything of quality out of it, we need to be Relentless in our pursuit of God and in our growth for His glory.  Relentless Growth.  We all need it.

365 days to be 44.  Let’s do this!

“It’s Like My Parents Used To Tell Me…”

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I only had one black eye, and I never raised a fist to get it!

“If I’d Only Known…” #3

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.  – Proverbs 1:8-9

I think back to my time as a teenager, and it probably was not that different from any other teen’s experiences today.  I’m learning things, doing more things, being given more responsibility, trying to figure out who I am going to be, working on being my own person, but in the middle of all of that there is a problem.  I still have people telling me what to do, my actions are questioned, and advice I might not want to hear is being thrust upon me.  Any teens reading this?  Am I remembering right?  I thought so.

It is a time of life that inherently involves struggle.  Some people say it is the “time for rebellion”, but I think that is an excuse for not addressing the issues properly.  The point of parenting is to get your kids to think and do for themselves so you don’t have to think and do for them.  Equip them for the world they will face so you will not need to keep doing it.  The thing is, in the midst of the process of creating people who think for themselves, a problem arises – THEY THINK FOR THEMSELVES!

There were struggles in my teen years as I watched my parents seemingly losing touch with the reality of life and how it should be handled by one such as myself.  I did not think they were losing their minds, but they did seem to be refusing to grow as I was, and it was just making it more difficult for us to connect.  I didn’t think they were hearing me, and many times they spoke in dialects that confused my ears as well.

There were times we connected on things and I was able to understand what they were saying, but there were many times that I took what I considered to be the best path because their words just made no sense to me.  I heard them, I remembered them, but I didn’t understand them.  I just filed them away in hopes that one day they might make sense.

Well, one day it happened.  There is an amazing thing that happens in the life of a man. Around the age of 23-25, his parents miraculously become smarter!  Their advice can once more be trusted and sought out as valid for application in life!  I know it sounds odd that two people who have had such a slide in mental faculties throughout their child’s teenage years can once again be trusted as being a resource for wisdom, but it is true!

The reality, of course, is that all of the things they taught me through those “hard years” just finally started to make sense in my head.  All of those platitudes of wisdom now had weight and meaning and were beginning to serve as the building blocks of how I would live my life.  I now understood the dialect and could understand not only the meanings of the words, but also the heart that had been behind them.  The result was that the same phrases that caused such frustration were now comforting to me, and served me as guides in different situations.

I am now the father of two of those “teenage” beings.  I see the look of confusion in their faces sometimes as I speak to them, and I know that they are experiencing the same thing I did when I was their age.  I see their frustration with me, and I know I feel it at times as well.  I recognize it is part of the process.  They are great kids, and I am very thankful of them.  They have made the hard job of parenting easier than I deserve.

I find myself saying some of the same things my parents said to me “back in the day.”  Those bits of wisdom, those phrases, those pieces of instruction are a part of who I am now.  They have shaped my foundation for living.  Relentless Living means I cannot consider myself complete because of them though.  There is more to do, and my relationship with God is necessary for that to happen.  I want to give my kids even more to help them as they grow.

My hope is that one day (by my calculations it will be in around 7-9 years) they will come to the same conclusion that I came to with my parents.  I was loved enough to be watched and instructed.  My prayer is that they will understand that and that they will remember what they learned and go on to do all the bigger and better things they hope to accomplish.  Then one day they can say,

“It’s like my Dad used to say…”

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Calling Him Out & Up

11205113_10206541655531169_195957320906306357_nThis past weekend was my annual Men’s Retreat.  I have been doing these things for  along time, and I have enjoyed each and every one of them, but this year the reason was a little different.  My son, Zach, was along for the adventure.  Let’s be clear, this is not one of those strip down and put on a loin cloth while dancing around a fire in the middle of the woods kind of things.  Trust me.  NOBODY wants to see that!  These retreats are opportunities for a group of guys to get away, hear some good teaching, and just enjoy some time as men.

Men need times like this.  It’s not that I wanted to get away from my wife. She’s AWESOME, and I love being with her.  The thing is, as much as I love being with her, I need to be with guys too!  She is my best friend.  She is intelligent, cultured, refined, kind, and sweet.  Basically, she is very much NOT a man. (I thank God for that each and every day!)

So, on these retreats, one of the things that we have tried to do for the last 5 years or so is to get the guys that do go on this trip to put a good amount of time into talking about the things that we struggle with.  Sometimes we will take the material that we are being given and use that as our springboard, but often it is just the things that we are dealing with in our lives that brings the best conversation.  Then, we will talk about what God would want us to do in that situation and set up  some type of plan for making a change that will bring us more in line with what God would want us to do.  Then, we assign a little bit of accountability. If you want to read a great article on THAT “dirty little word” then just click here.

I joined a great men’s group several years ago with my buddy Ray (He wasn’t my buddy until about half way through the class.) where we did a study called Authentic Manhood.  It was a great study, and it has opened up many doors for growth in my life.  It talks about how a man should live in the home, at work, and at church.  It gives insight into why we are the way we are because of things from our past, but it gives us a promise that we are not prisoners to that past.  We CAN change!  It tells us how to be better husbands, fathers, employees, bosses, financial managers, and pretty much anything else you would want to be.  Like I said, it opens up MANY doors for growth.

11180295_10206547099467264_1789966459726332317_nOne thing taught in the study is the importance of building into the lives of our sons through intentional conversations, activities, and friendships.  As we do these things, there are moments where it is good to “call up” your son into manhood.  It’s not an “all-at-once” thing.  It happens in stages, and those stages are marked by ceremonies that the young man will be able to look back on as he grows as moments where he was called out to be a man among men.  It’s not just tied to his age.  It’s more than that.  He is called out by men who believe in him and want to see him grow.  Those men will offer their advice to him and will stand with him as he grows.  This is something that we need!

So, this retreat was very special to me because I had asked four men that God has brought into my life as my closest friends to help me in calling up my son.  There were a lot of things that we did at the retreat, but this was by far, the most important thing that happened there that weekend.

The men that spoke to Zach are men that I love and respect.  Yes, I said I love these guys.  They are men that I pray for every day, and I know they pray for me too.  We have shared things that are struggles in our lives, and we have been building a strong bond that encourages us when we are getting weighed down with the stresses and trials of life.  I need these guys, and I hope they all need me too!

Me talking to Zach about a legacy of Faith
Me talking to Zach about a spiritual legacy

I asked each them to speak to Zach about something important.  They spoke about Discipline, Integrity, Faith/Following God, and Friendship, then I ended it by talking about the importance of building a spiritual legacy that carries into eternity.  At the end, I presented him with a gift.  He now owns a shield that has a Tanner family crest on it.  My hope is that he will always keep that shield and look back on this day when his dad and his four friends told him that he is becoming a man, and that they are going to help him grow into a good one.  I want him to remember the respect that they showed him that day as men who are living out principles that they talked to him about.

As Zach grows over the next 5-10 years, there will be a couple more of these “ceremonies” that we will do.  The topics will change, and there may be some other men that enter the mix, but one thing will stay the same.  There will be an intentional focus on helping Zach to see the importance of men in his life.  We were not designed to go solo, and it is a foolish man that thinks he can do it and get away with it.

11150650_10206570837340696_2142947637021693128_nI want there to be men that tell Zach the same story.  Men who will echo my words that he should have a Relentless pursuit of God and relationship with Jesus Christ.  I want him to love one woman with all his heart and to raise godly kids that he can teach the same things to.  I want him to see the importance of giving his best at work, but knowing when it is time to set it aside for family.  I want him to learn to identify his shortcomings and not just stew over them, but to determine and purpose in his heart that a failure is an opportunity to learn and be strengthened by God for a future victory.

I hope I pass this legacy on to Zach, and that he will take it on to his kids and almost as importantly, to other men.  Let’s face it, we will all impact out own kids on purpose or accidentally.  There is no arguing that, but think about what could happen if men were intentional about not inly impacting their own kids, but the children of their friends as well!  Now we are talking about Relentless Living!

Many thanks to the four men who spoke to Zach this weekend.  Mike, Tom, Joe, & Ray, I appreciate it more than I can ever tell you.  Justin, Noah, Phil, and Marty, I am glad you were there too as witnesses and as participants in a weekend that I know I will never forget!

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2015 – “Whatcha Doin’?”

Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Please show me your glory.

 – Exodus 33:13-18 (ESV) Emphasis mine

Many years ago, and by the date in the pic it was in the neighborhood of 14 years ago, I was sitting at the computer one night and Zach came over and asked a question.  He had a very good vocabulary for a little guy less than two years old, and I’m not sure why I did it, but I got the microphone down close to him and recorded the audio in the clip below:

He loved anything and everything about the computer and was always hopping up into my chair and grabbing the mouse.  He was a natural.  I don’t know how many times I would come back to the computer and find all the icons rearranged – or gone.  Some of it was his natural bent toward tech.  Some of it was he wanted to be like Dad, and Dad worked on the computer.

Over the years, we switched out computers a few times, but I have never gotten rid of that sound file.  It brings a smile to my face every time I hear it because it takes me back to the days when he was so little and interested in everything that I did.  “Whatcha doin’?” was a very common phrase in our house as he would toddle along behind me.  Whether outside, in the garage, at the computer, in the basement, or just coming in the house, it was almost a greeting, but I see now it was more than that.

That little guy’s query was a constant reminder of his desire to be a part of what was going on in my life.  He wanted to know everything!  Sometimes the answer would be enough in itself and off he would go to do his own thing, but other times it would prompt second questions or a request to help – to be involved.

wpid-2014-12-30-10.14.06.png.pngThis little guy will be 16 in five months.  Hard to believe how fast time flies.  He still asks the question from time to time, but the voice is a bit deeper now.  The hair on his head is a little darker, and there is a definite shadow of a beard on his face.  He doesn’t look up at me to ask the question like he did back then because he can just about look me in the eye now.  So much has changed, and it seems like a blink or two ago.

When Zach would ask me that question as a little boy, he was in pursuit of something.  I was too thick to notice it all the time, and really only picked it up as I started writing this post, but he was looking for a way to be a part of what I was doing.  I was focused on a task, an obstacle, a schedule, or a demand, but he was focused as much on getting to know me as he was on the work I was involved in.  Like I said earlier, sometimes the knowledge of what I was doing was enough, but other times he would join me in what I was doing.  In hindsight, I probably too often  turned him aside with excuses ranging from, “I don’t have time to let him help. It’s not safe for him. I want it done right.” I could have done better.

2015 is here.  Just like every year, people are thinking about the future.  What will this year hold?  Where will we be in twelve months?  We always get this way in late December and early January as we think about the unknown.  How will we get to the goals we have set?  Who will help?  Will I be happy?  Those questions have something in common.  As well-intentioned as they may be, they are about ourselves.  They’re not bad, but could we possible find a better option? Could we focus on our new year in a more Relentless way?

There are things I want to see happen this year, but there is something that I want to start doing particularly in my Quiet Times with God.  As I look at this new year, I am taking lesson from my son. I am going to take more time to ask God, “Whatcha doin’?”  In my life, my family, my job, my friends, my church – God, Whatcha doin’?

Three reasons I want to do this:

1. I want keep a daily focus on God. Keeping  daily focus on God by reading His Word and talking to Him about my life, the lives of those I love, and the  things that cross my path will keep my heart soft toward His direction.

2. I want to join Him.  If I am looking to God and asking Him to tell me what He is doing, I will see opportunities to join Him in things that He wants me to join Him in.  I won’t join Him in everything He is doing because I might not be the person He wants involved in it, but I will never join Him in anything if I am not asking what He is doing.

3. I need His help. I can do things on my own, but I need Him to show me the things that I am doing poorly.  I want Him to grow me, and if I am left to myself, then I will never be anything like what I can be with God.

When my son was little, I so very much enjoyed watching him trying to be like me.  Now that he is older, the feeling is more of a satisfaction.  I am pleased when his interests are in tune with mine and he wants to join me in the things I do.  I take joy in his individuality and in watching him pursue his passions, and I take joy in those times he wants to be like me.

I think God is the same way.  He made us all to be different, but He made us all to seek relationship with Him.  He made us all to have a free will, and He made us all have a desire to be a part of something bigger.  He has great joy in watching us use the gifts and talents He gave us that have no “real spiritual value”, and He loves it when we engage in activities that draw our hearts closer to His.Slide1

So, this year, this is my challenge to you.  Ask God, “Whatcha Doin’?” Look for Him in His Word. Get to know Him better.  See how He worked in the lives of His people in the Bible.  Seek out those around you that are showing Him at work in their lives.  Look inside yourself and see if there is anything holding you back from getting involved in something big for God, and let me say this.  If it is with God, it is big.  He is a big God, even in the little things.

So, can you do me a favor?  If you are reading this, could you share it with your friends and then do one more thing for me? I’d love to know something.  This year, “Whatcha doin'” to know God better?  “Whatcha doin'” to be Relentless in your growth in Christ?  “Whatcha doin'” to build relationships with others?  Message me or comment below.  I’d love to pray for your year too!

In HIS Grip,

Tom

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Are You Ready?

 

Are-You-Ready-To-Be-A-Millionaire-07-07-2014I like to teach.  I have had the opportunity over the years to do q lot of informal teaching, and occasionally some teaching that is much more structured.  Both are fun, even though they ask for drastically different teaching styles.  Currently I am teaching a college and career age class at my church in our Adult Bible Fellowship hour.  It’s fun.  A lot of fun.  I might be old enough to be their Dad, but that might be part of why I like it!  They make it fun for me, and I hope I make it a good time for them as well.

After class yesterday I had the opportunity to be interviewed by one of the young ladies in the class.  She is doing a paper on religions and wanted to ask my why I believe what I believe.  We spent a good 30 minutes talking about religion, works, faith, and relationship with God.  It was a fantastic way to spend 30 minutes!

On the way home from church I was telling my kids about the conversation.  It was a great opportunity to tell them about the beliefs of other denominations and to let them know why I believe what I believe, and where they could find the proof of it in the Bible for themselves.  I was having a VERY good day!  I was getting to teach at church in a class situation, in a one-on-one setting, and then pulling a Deuteronomy 6:7 moment with the kids on the way home!

Then my son said something that pulled me back. I know he meant it well, but it made me think.

“Dad, it’s kinda weird to hear you talk about God like you do.”

Now, he meant that I was excited, and I am so thankful that he recognized that, but it made me think, “Why is that weird?” Well, probably because sometimes things are weird until you get used to them.  The more recent the moment of change, the more alien it feels.  This is still fairly new for me.

I have been teaching for about 7 years now in church, but that is something he doesn’t get a chance to see, and Dad teaching in church when he talks about God is understandable, but talking about God outside of church?  That is still a fairly recent development.  I have never been one to really talk about my faith with others unless I am in a “church” setting, but that is changing.

I think this blog has something to do with it. I realize that most of the people who read it are probably “churched”, but I also know that I put this out there in some areas where people who don’t attend church can see it, or maybe they go to different church and don’t believe some of the same things that I do.  Since I use this blog to talk about my journey in growing close to Christ, I am getting more experience in sharing my faith, and it is becoming more natural.  As it becomes more natural, it is showing in “real life” too!

Peter gives us a charge as believers:

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”

– 1 Peter 3:15 (emphasis mine)

This is what I am relentlessly pursuing.  Being prepared to make a defense.  Other translations use the phrase “give an account”.  Either phrase is intended to give the picture of standing in a courtroom and giving your testimony of the facts.  Why God means to you what you say He means to you.  A few things we can take from this verse:

1. Remember who you are talking about

This is about God.  The holy, pure, one and only God!  We honor Him by knowing not only WHAT we believe, but WHY we believe it!  That is how we honor Him and what He has done for us.  It is not just a matter of knowing about something, but becoming intimately acquainted with the Savior.

2. Be ready to speak

Not ready to run your mouth.  Be ready to explain, in detail, why you believe what you say you believe.  This is not something that should be taken lightly.  As believers, we should be taking the time to get to know God every day!  The better we know Him and His Word, the more accurately we will be able to present our case.  We need to have our facts straight, and be capable of stating it in a way that can be understood.

3. Be gentle in your speech

We can tell somebody the amazing story of God’s love for each and every individual person on this planet in a way that will make them want nothing to do with Him.  Pretty sad, but very true.  How we present our faith should be done in obedience to God, but with respect to the other person whose views may differ from our own.  Christ did not shake people into belief.  He spoke truth in a calm and loving way, letting the Truth do the shaking for Him.  That’s what He wants from us as well.

I have known my Savior for about 37 years.  I didn’t put a lot of effort into getting to know Him until about 8 years ago.  It’s only been in the last 2 years that I have started telling people about Him outside of church.  That’s not a good account.  That account says I spent too much time focused on how I felt about what people thought of me.

The good thing is that I have been doing it now for 2 years.  I started.  A desire for Relentless Growth in Christ will lead to a desire to share what He has done with people that you care about.  As you learn more and share more, you will see more and more opportunities to do it.  God’s pretty cool about stuff like that.

So, ask yourself.  “Are you ready?”

If this has been an encouragement to you, please share it with someone who might benefit from it as well.  More importantly, if you have benefitted from knowing Christ – share that!  I’d love to hear from you with your stories and comments!

Relentless Growth -> Grow Deep -> Grow Strong

 

“I’m In Hot Pursuit!”

rosco_2x11_33Every time I hear the word “pursuit”, as a child of the 80’s I am reminded of Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane. There were not a lot of things about Roscoe I would like to add to my life, but you have to admit, Roscoe never gave up a pursuit…

Continuing my study of Gideon, I am in chapter 8 of Judges and verse 4 is a challenge to my daily walk:

And Gideon came to the Jordan and crossed over, he and the 300 men who were with him, exhausted yet pursuing. (emphasis mine)

Gideon’s battle itself was not an overly difficult one, but when you look back in the story, it would appear that he has had a prolonged period of time without much sleep.  Gideon did a lot of work at night – taking down an idol, infiltrating a camp, and then his trumpet and light show that turned the enemy on themselves.  Follow all of that up with a pursuit of two fellas and their straggling soldiers, a confrontation with some of his cousins, and I am sure he was exhausted.

But he kept pursuing.  Why?

I think it is simply because the job wasn’t done.  God told him He would use Gideon to defeat the armies of Midian, and these two generals were still converting oxygen to CO2.  It was not time to rest.  And in the verses to follow, we will see that there was more to overcome.  I encourage you to read it for yourself and see how Gideon pressed on and took care of the job. Even when people denied him help, he did not let up.

Lately, I have been very tired.  I know God is blessing and there are a lot of really neat things going on – continuing to grow closer to my wife, the amazing number of kids from BBC at Lake Ann Camp this year, the relationship that has been getting stronger with my son, the time I have been spending in the Word, trying my hand at writing, working to be a godly husband, father, and friend.  I am so excited about it, as I am sure that Gideon was excited about the victory he had been promised.  I know that God is working.  I know that He is working on me.

I’m tired.

I’m tired, and I see other big things and opportunities ahead.  It scares me to think I am already tired!  To think that I could one day look back on this and think, “You only THOUGHT you were tired!”

I’m not going to let it stop me though.  There are things happening that I have been longing to see, just as Gideon wanted to see his people free.  The dreams I have had are fuel that allow me to keep going.  God is working, and I see it.  He is telling me that He is sufficient for me.  I know that there will be people along the way that will help me – you all are doing it already in your prayers.  I also know there will be people who can, but will not.  Not sure if I get to beat them with blackberry thorns… That might take a little more Bible Study to see if that is an option…

I talked with a friend last night who is in a pursuit of his own. He is stepping out of what many would call a great job, at a place he loves, where he is surrounded by friends and a great culture, to follow God in a different way. He has about 40 days and he will even need to be out of his home, and he doesn’t know where he is going yet! He has some ideas, some thoughts on what he is praying and hoping for, but he has nothing tangible at this point. As he was telling me all about it, HE COULD NOT STOP SMILING! He is relentlessly pursuing what God has put in his heart and he is thrilled, even in the face of the unknown. What an encouragement to me!

Keep pursuing!  We all get tired, but Gideon was not alone.  He had his trusted men with him as I do.  He had the words of God to stand on, as I do.  He was the man God wanted in the battle.  I believe that at least at this period of my life, I am where He wants me to be – Relentless in pursuit of the mission set before me.

Relentless Growth -> Grow Deep -> Grow Strong

 

 

 

War! What Is It Good For?

239902Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to test Israel by them (that is all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan; only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly). – Judges 3:1-2 (ESV)

“War… what is it good for?”   Well, if you are channeling your inner hippie, you would answer that question with (all together now), “absolutely nuthin’!” Is it? I’m not asking about violence for the sake of violence. I’m talking about war. Warfare is defined as – the process of military struggle between two nations or groups of nations; war. 2. armed conflict between two massed enemies, armies, or the like. 3. conflict … For all intents and purposes, we are talking about the ability to fight.

I know some people think there is no reason to fight. We all just need to learn to get along. We need to be tolerant. Tolerant to the point of surrendering our thoughts and ideals because someone else has voiced theirs. Fighting has been replaced with simply stating an opinion? If that is what we are supposed to do, then I would suggest we are still in a form of fighting because that would mean the first person to speak wins!

Conflict is all around us, and I am not going to try and argue that all conflict is good conflict – it’s not. It is always good to learn how to deal with conflict though, and that is a type of warfare! Dealing with conflict is a battle inside ourselves to arrive at an outcome that is good without an escalation to violence IF possible.

I might start losing some people if I don’t get right to my point here, and if I am pushing any buttons with anyone, I want to let you know that my goal is not conflict in through this post. I have a direction here, and if you bear with me, we will get back around to it. I promise!

When the children of Israel came into the Promised Land they had some fighting to do. God had given them the land, but there were people in it that did not serve God and He wanted them gone. He promised the Hebrew people that if they would go out and take the land, He would drive their enemies out. They just needed to act on it. Well, they went to work, and they took much of the land – but not all of it.

Through many little slips, compromises, and probably a little laziness, they allowed several of the nations in Canaan to stay in the land. Long story short, those nations were full of pagan religions that eventually led many of the Israelites away from God. Why did the Israelites let this happen? Would a better question be to ask why God allowed this to happen? He could have just driven the rest of them out by Himself. He could have just made them all drop dead on the spot. Why did He let them stay if He knew that the Israelites would stray from Him?

They needed to know how to fight for what God had given them.

The generations that had fought were dying off, and the young men coming up had no experience on the battle field. They needed to have opportunities to learn and strengthen their skills in defending what they had been given. They needed to be able to stand strong as God’s people in the face of enemies. They needed to be tested.

Think of those pagan nations as the sin in our lives today. Wouldn’t it be easier to live the Christian life if there was no sin? Think about it! We could go through the day and never need to feel that tweak of the conscience that we had done the wrong thing. We could end each day with a clean slate and know that tomorrow would be the same thing! We could stand before God and say, “I am without sin!” Hmmm. Wouldn’t that be a bit prideful?

God has allowed sin to still be in our lives for a couple of reasons that I can see:

We need to learn to lean on Him

There are things in my life that I cannot have victory over by myself. I have weaknesses that Satan knows how to exploit. I get tired, bored, self-absorbed, and he pounces. I need to have God with me to give me strength, to keep me alert, and to keep me so focused on Him that sin cannot gain a beachhead in my life. Sin is a reminder of how much I need God.

We need to learn how to teach others

I have sinned too many times to count, and some of those sins have brought me great pain. My hope is that by sharing my experiences with others and allowing them to see how I failed and how I was able to get up and keep fighting with God holding me up, I will be able to help someone else struggling with the same sin. Help them avoid the pain and be victorious!

Sin will one day be taken away. Until that happens, I have a life ahead of me that requires warfare. It requires a dedication to training myself to fight against sin and its temptations. The presence of sin in the world makes it necessary for me to equip my friends, to train up another generation for the battle. Relentless Living is not putting my head in the sand and thinking that if I don’t offend I will not need to fight. The fight is always there. The question is, am I ready for the battle?

The best way to fight and win a battle is to prepare for it. I’m not sure when I am going to fall in to a trap of temptation, but I know that if I am spending time with my God in the Word and in prayer, I will be better prepared when the battles come. The best offense is a good defense.

So, my challenge to you is this. What are you doing to make sure that you are preparing? Are you devoted to Relentless Growth in your life? It’s going to mean conflict. It’s going to mean a fight. There is no better way to be ready than to be in God’s Word.

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Digging In the Past – Part 2

DiggingSo, when I left off last I was 16 years old.  I was a Christian, but I was definitely not living a life of relationship with Christ.  My thoughts about God were that He was in control, but He must not have much interest in my life.

At sixteen my church split.  It was a pretty ugly one, and the result was a lot of people going different directions.  I was one of them.  For the next 4-5 years, I bounced back and forth between two churches.  I knew I needed to be in church, but I didn’t feel at home there anymore.  Too much had changed.  I had seen the ugly underbelly of a legalistic religious system, and I became very skeptical.  Could I trust a Pastor again?  I wasn’t sure.

Over that time frame I saw things that only kept me in turmoil as the leadership in each church turned over.  Things were said, people were hurt, attendance ebbed and flowed, and I was still very confused.  I could not settle into either church and felt like a perpetual visitor.  I still was a member of my little church where I grew up, but I didn’t feel like I belonged there.  I enjoyed the other church more, but felt like I couldn’t trust it.  If I did, what would happen?

After Tammi and I were married we kind of settled into the routine of going to church where she had attended through her teen years.  I said we got into the routine, and that was pretty much what it was.  Just a routine.  We kept hearing much of the same old story of how we needed to do this to gain God’s favor.  Avoid that or we would bring down God’s wrath.  Lots of rules, but not a lot of understanding what being a Christian meant.

As time continued to pass, we were blessed with a couple of kids.  We got into the habit of taking the weekends  for ourselves.  We went to church more when we felt like it, and that became less and less.  Eventually we realized that we were barely attending at all, and that bothered us because we wanted our kids to grow up to know Christ.  I think God started tapping our shoulders around that time and we decided that we needed to look somewhere outside our community for a church.

After talking to some people and looking around we settled on a church in Traverse City that had a Pastor who had been there for many years.  We figured if he had been there a long time that had to say something, so we decided to give it a try.  We were very glad we did.

Over the next few years we were challenged to change much of how we thought about God.  We started to hear a little bit more about how God’s grace is for living, and not just for salvation.  We started to understand that while we should obey God as believers, He is not taken by surprise when we sin, and He is standing there ready to forgive and welcome us back.

It was a great time for healing in our lives as we began to make friends, enjoy church for the teaching as well as the people, and I was finally able to feel like God did want to be a part of my life.  I had a hunger to serve.  I had a hunger to learn!

Our kids were growing, as they are prone to do, and we had them enrolled in the Christian school in Traverse City.  The financial strain of the commute every day for school combined with the time we spent on the road every week brought us to a point where we felt we needed to make a decision again.  We wanted to be more involved in church, but we felt that the distance was making it too difficult.  After a lot of talk, we decided that we needed to go back to our previous church and get involved there.  We were very unhappy to leave, but felt that it was our best opportunity to serve God.  After all, what good is a Christian who is not serving?

Looking back on that decision, I am not sure we made the right one at the time.  I believe God redeemed that decision, but I know that we did not make the decision with Him.  I do not remember ever praying about it.  It was a time and money decision that I made and covered it up by saying that I was going to put myself in a position to serve God better.  That would make Him happy, right?  I still had a very strong performance-based outlook on my standing with God.

When we got back in our old church, we got involved – deeply.  We were there for every service, event, whatever was going on.  We sang, played music, worked in AWANA, and anything else that came along.  We made friends and felt like it was a good place to be.

As time continued to pass, I ended up in leadership at the church.  I still wonder why that happened, but I think that God had a plan to use it down the road.  While I was a deacon, I began to see things in a different light.  I noticed that I was getting very critical of those who were not serving in the church.  I began to resent people who did not step up and “do their part.”  I was not alone in this thinking, and it was never hard to find someone else who felt the same way.

I started to judge people’s spiritual maturity based on how many ministries they worked in.   Seemed like a reasonable yardstick to use. That was how I had been raised, so it felt very normal to use that yardstick for those around me.  Measure with it, and then smack those not performing to standard with it!  “Rod of correction”, right?

This was serving to do one thing.  I started becoming bitter.  There really wasn’t any benefit in what I was doing.  I was just getting more and more bitter toward people, the church, and even toward God.  I kept a lot of that inside, but I know that it was leaking out as the number of friends we had began to decline, and I take the blame for that.

Right around this time I was asked to take on another ministry.  Of course, I did it.  I didn’t want to do it, but I was asked by my Pastor, and I was raised to do what the Pastor says.  I think back now and I don’t think he was actually trying to force me to do this.  I think that this was God at work.  I was not doing a very good job in coming around to where God wanted me, so God used my ingrained training to get to me.  Kind of like He was saying, “Well, Tom isn’t talking to me or reading his Bible.  I guess if I can get the Pastor to ask him to do this, He might pay attention.”

So, I began to teach an adult Sunday School class.  I was terrified for two reasons.  The first was that I was afraid to get up in front of people and talk.  The second was that I had been told through the years that the role of teaching God’s Word brought a level of responsibility on the teacher that was very heavy.  It was nothing to take lightly.

I didn’t.  I attacked it.  For the first time in my life I was in my Bible regularly.  I began to learn more than I ever had before.  I know I was learning  more than the people I was teaching!  The books that I used for my class material started to make me look at things differently, and I started to experience something that I had never really felt before.  Spiritual conflict.

I’d like to say it was growth, but it was conflict.  I was a believer, but I was not serving God.  I was a Christian, but my desires took precedence over God’s.  My comfort, my standing, my glory, my opinions – these were my gods.  The time I was spending in study was putting me in a position that brought me face to face with the facts.  The facts being that I needed to make some changes.  The changes that I needed to make started causing some conflict with people as I became hungry for change that others were not looking for.

I wish I could say that I handled that conflict well.  I didn’t.  I hurt people with my words and my attitude.  I kept trying to do more in hopes that I could get people to see what I was seeing, but all it did was take me to a breaking point.

Until this point in my life I had never put a ton of thought into spiritual warfare – the demonic realm that works on our hearts in hopes of stalling our growth.  I had read Peretti’s books and thought they were great stories.  I believed in angels and demons, but I never thought they were really interested in me.  Well, about this time I started having dreams that made me wake up sweating and scared, but I could not remember them.  I was not sleeping much because I actually reached the point where I was afraid to sleep.

One night I had a particularly bad dream.  I was in a dark place and was being chased by a horde of demons.  I had my family with me and I was trying to keep the demons from them.  I did everything I could do to fight them off and keep them from my family.  Then I realized that the demons wanted me.  The only way I could keep them from my family would be to give up.  My hope was that if I just gave in, my family could get away and I would be the only one to fall.  What a lie that would have been!

Well, in my dream I told them to run, and I stopped and turned around.  I remember vividly how I curled into a ball as they began to bite, scratch and claw at me; tearing me to shreds.  I was about to give up entirely when Tammi woke me up.  She said I had been moaning, crying, and shaking in my sleep and I woke her up.  Needless to say, we were pretty shaken up about it.

The next night a good friend of ours on the mission field “just happened” to call me.  Amazing how God’s timing is always so perfect.  He asked me how I was, and I just spilled it.  Everything.  He listened to me, asked a couple of questions, and then gave me the strangest piece of advice I had ever heard.  “You need to back out of everything.  Take one ministry and stay in that, but give up everything else.”  I thought he was crazy!

How can I stop doing all these things for God?  What will He think of me?  What will the church think of me?  Does he know what I am doing?  Well, I sat down and counted up the different ministries I worked in on a regular basis, and the count was 18.  I looked at them all and decided that I would drop half.  That seemed to be a reasonable thing to do.  I was afraid that God would be very upset if I did less than that.

Well, He was not upset.  I know I felt better. I started to see some balance in my life again.  I started to enjoy more of the things that I did do even if I didn’t enjoy all of them.  I wish I could say that it was received well by others, but the most important thing was that I was sleeping at night, and I was still learning.  I was learning to understand a truth that my friend told me the night of that “coincidental” phone call.  “God is much more interested in people doing things with Him than for Him.”

Necessary change was taking place, and there would be  more to come…

Happy 17th Birthday, Jessica! Dad Loves You!

Today my little girl turns 17.  I am not sure how this happened, since it seems she was just born last Thursday, but here we are. I know I am not the first Dad out there that has felt the shock of a growing daughter, but this is my first little girl, and this is my blog, so if you want to continue to read, then you will just have to pretend I am or at least hold your tongue for now.  I’ll take comments in the box below.

So, I guess the way that I want to do this is to speak to my daughter.  All you other folks won’t mind if I do that, will you?  I thought not.  You are welcome to listen in, but please, silence your cell phones so as not to disturb us.

Jessica,

I remember the day that your mom told me that you were on the way.  I was working in the bakery and she had just finished working a night shift at the hospital when she stopped in and set a package of diapers on the front counter and told me that we were going to need those in 9 months.  I was so happy, and the ladies that worked with me in the bakery were all hooting and hollering as well.

321491_4832527489535_88458044_nIt was so exciting waiting with mom while you grew, and when the day came I was beyond words.  I know I have told you that I wanted a boy, and since we didn’t know what was coming I was so surprised.  I was the father of a daughter! The surprise to me was that I could not have been happier.  You stole my heart right from the beginning.

312424_4832536289755_358998531_nWe brought you home and then the race began.  How can we put all the love for this little girl that we have into her before she grows up?  Well, you made it easy.  Your love of life, your sweet smile and your bright eyes made it easy for us to just pour it into you.  We had so many nights of just sitting on the couch talking to you and playing with you.  I loved that toothless grin!

995302_10202357674841693_1646407219_nAs you grew and became more active our games would change.  We would get our hats on and go for a cricket hunt.  We would throw treats to Clyde the dog.  We loved sitting in the living room at night, just the three of us and talk to you just to hear you talk to us.  We were so amazed at how smart you were and how wide your vocabulary was.  You have continued to amaze us!

46306_4832650092600_776163294_nI blinked one day and you grew again.  You had become old enough to start taking care of animals.  So, we started something that I had no idea would turn into what it has today.  Your love for the furry things that you took care of has been so great to watch, because it is just a natural outpouring of the love that God has put inside you.

75003_4832780735866_725842936_nOf course, the furry things have gotten bigger as you have gotten bigger, but it has proven to be an indicator of the passion you have for seeing things through and being accountable for your responsibilities.  I have been so proud of the way that you have practiced through smiles and tears with your horses.  I have enjoyed watching you just hang out with them in the pasture as you so often do in the summer.  I love seeing your happiness in the creatures God has given us.

Now you are 17.  It is so satisfying to see the beautiful young lady that you have turned into.  Your mom and I have said for years that we have been blessed with great kids.  We gave you discipline when you needed it, and love all the time, but we truly have been blessed.  Not just because you are so pretty and smart, but because God has done and is continuing to do a work in your heart.

1526530_10202336918602800_936439436_nI am so thankful that you know Christ, and that you have a relationship with Him that is yours, not one that you have borrowed from me or mom.  I think that is what has made you so beautiful on the inside to go along with the beautiful young lady that you are.  God has big plans for you, this I know.  He has not shown us the whole picture, but I know that He is excited about the things He has for you.  I am too.

I said earlier that I was afraid I would never be able to pour all of my love into you before you grew up.  I know now that I never will.  That is a life long job for me. You are loved, daughter.  Now and forever.  Not jsut by me, but by your heavenly Father as well. I am so glad to be your Dad, but even more glad that you know Him too.  Be relentless in your pursuit of Him and your dreams.  Continue to search for you identity in Him and just bask in His love!

I love you, Squirt,

Dad